Public Comment

Commentary: Ballot Language for Parcel Tax Should Be Clear to Pass

By Stevie Corcos
Tuesday June 06, 2006

Last Wednesday night, I went to the school board’s public hearing to express my concern about how the superintendent’s proposed new parcel tax of over $19 million would be spent.  

I was even more concerned over what I heard and learned at this public hearing. The superintendent’s proposed parcel tax will allow the school district to deduct a significant amount of money for overhead, administration and other expenses rather than provide directly for children’s learning. These deductions include: 2 percent right off the top, then $3,000 per classroom for “direct support”, and then 7 percent for “indirect support.” “Direct support” isn’t defined 

Then I heard the president of the teachers’ union state his concern over school district finances because the school board has never refused a single one of the Superintendent’s requests for additional administrative staff, or for administrative staff salary increases. 

When the school board members responded, not one said anything contrary. Shirley Issel stated that all increases were made to save money, which I did not understand. Both Issel and director Rivera made statements about the integrity of the school board. 

In November of 2004, I opposed BUSD’s parcel tax measure because the language in the ballot measure was too loose and not detailed enough in what the money could be used for. The funding title says “class size reduction” but the actual parcel tax language states that the monies can be used for “all costs attendant . . . including operational and professional development . . . and other costs associated with the opening or maintaining of classrooms . . .” 

This language in effect permits the school district to spend the money on practically anything, including custodians, light bulbs, telephone lines, or mowing the grass. Parcel taxes should not be used for upkeep. We already provide $4 million a year in a separate parcel tax for maintenance. This new parcel tax must be used to benefit the children directly.  

I want to know that the children are benefiting directly. The language of the parcel tax must be re-written to insure that the monies are used for children and not upkeep. If an independent audit committee and an independent auditor were closely monitoring the school system for efficiency, effectiveness and assurance that programs are reaching the stated objectives, and if the independent audit committee then publicly reported their findings, then that would be a reliable, and trustworthy assessment and public report. But the current parcel tax does not have such a structure. It has a section with the title “audit committee” but without genuine details. 

If BUSD was a corporation with an annual budget of $100 million, federal law would require it to have an independent audit committee and to conduct reviews for efficiency and effectiveness. I think BUSD should take the high road, and show us, that it values our tax dollars, and that it is doing the right thing. 

I am a long-time Berkeley resident. My children attended Berkeley public schools. One grandson recently graduated from Berkeley High and a second enters Berkeley High next September. I am a retired music teacher, and have been involved with children and the schools of Berkeley for 50 years. I know that many of us older, retired people look carefully at how we agree to spend our dollars. I want to know that the money I give the school district is not wasted and is well spent on children in a way that benefits their minds. Children’s education is really what is important. 

Therefore, I urge the school board to adopt proposed language changes made by the Berkeley Organization Be Smaart including: 

1. The specific and detailed independent audit committee and audit requirements. 

2. Clarifying and limiting what and how the money can be spent. 

3. Reducing the term of the parcel tax to 4 years, so that we can review what’s going on more frequently. 

Copies of BeSmaart’s proposed revisions and the superintendent’s version will soon be up on the website: 


Stevie Corcos is a Berkeley violinist.